Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for UPARC, moves to Westfield Countryside mall


It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Westfield Countryside mall. In addition to the traditional Christmas decor, shoppers will see more than 100 trees, from 2 to 7 feet tall, dressed with unique, sparkling decorations and waiting for their new holiday homes. It's the 25th annual Festival of Trees, traditionally the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Upper Pinellas Association of Retarded Citizens, commonly known as UPARC. The festival begins tonight with a gala and ends Nov. 29.

The move is a dramatic departure from the festival's former home: Clearwater's Harborview Center, a small convention center that the city plans to shut down early next year.

That means no entry fee for mall visitors, comparatively little overhead for UPARC and plenty of exposure for the event, organizers say.

The synergy between the mall and festival organizers is lighting up smiles on both sides of the aisle.

"We're more exposed and able to get more sponsors and, hopefully, more donations for the trees," said Leeward Bean, co-chairman of the event.

Tara Martin, regional marketing director for Westfield, said the chain of shopping malls was "thrilled about the partnership."

"Our hope is that our energy together will bolster support for this special holiday tradition," she said.

She expects hundreds of thousands of mall shoppers to pass through the doors between now and the end of the week. The festival will run during "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, when shoppers are out in abundance.

Besides trees, bargain hunters and browsers will see a lighter, brighter mall.

The shopping center has just finished its seven-month, $12 million makeover with new carpet, tile and paint, a new children's play area, and energy-efficient lighting and skylights.

Trees will be located in several different pods in the mall and feature themes such as wine, romance, Elvis, butterflies and origami. There's a Barbie tree for the girls, while the boys can drool over the Hot Wheels tree.

Don't miss the extravagant Swarovski crystal tree upstairs near the ice rink.

On Friday, UPARC volunteer Carol Harper was behind closed doors fluffing the white tree donated by Bijoux Jewelers of Westfield Countryside Mall.

When complete, it will be covered with mercury glass ornaments, feathery white doves, sparkling butterflies, organza and 58 Swarovski crystals, she said.

It's to be auctioned off at tonight's Premiere Night Gala along with a weeklong house rental in the Bahamas.

Swarovski crystal trees in the past have brought as much as $12,000 for the UPARC Foundation, said past chairman Dowell Bates.

Tonight's gala is open to the public. Tickets are $75 a ticket, or $100 for a patron. The party features food by 15 area restaurants, holiday libations and a special ice skating show.

Other trees will be offered for a price. Those that don't sell tonight will be raffled off.

Larger trees will be delivered to homes, businesses and organizations Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

Beginning Monday, tickets (one for $5 or five for $20) will be sold to shoppers all week long with winning tickets drawn next Sunday after the festival closes. Winners will be contacted shortly after that.

"We're hoping to raise $120,000," Bates said. "Thanks to Westfield, we won't have all the expense we did last year."

If you go

25th annual Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for the Upper Pinellas Association of Retarded Citizens Foundation, which supports 22 group homes for children and adults and a variety of services for the developmentally disabled.

Where: Westfield Countryside mall, U.S. 19 at State Road 580

When: The festival kicks off with a gala event tonight and runs through Nov. 29. The mall is closed Thanksgiving Day.

Tonight's gala: Premiere Night Gala at the mall, from 7 to 10 p.m., features food from area restaurants, drinks, a special ice skating show and valet parking. Patrons can buy trees at the event. Tickets are $75 a person; $100 for a patron. Festive dress. Tickets will be sold tonight at the door.

Tree raffle: Beginning Monday, raffle tickets will be sold (one for $5 or five for $20) for all available trees. The drawing will be held Nov. 29 after the event closes.

For more information: Contact the UPARC Foundation at (727) 797-8712 or visit

Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for UPARC, moves to Westfield Countryside mall 11/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 21, 2009 3:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Video: Loggerhead sea turtle found in Islamorada resident's pool


    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on Monday, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys.

    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on June 22, 2017, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys. [Photo from video]

  2. What Wilson Ramos will mean to the Rays lineup, pitching

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer was stumping for all-star votes for Corey Dickerson during a live interview Wednesday morning on the MLB Network when he lifted the right earpiece on his headset and said, "I hear a buffalo coming."

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos (40) waves to the crowd after being presented with the Silver Slugger Award before the start of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
  3. Deon Cain, Duke Dawson, Derrick Nnadi among SI's top 100 players


    Sports Illustrated's countdown of the top 100 players in college football continues with three more local players.

  4. She doesn't care if you accept her, as long as you respect her

    Human Interest

    Mary Jane Taylor finds strength walking quietly among the dead.

    Mary Jane Taylor,18, visits Oaklawn Cemetery in downtown Tampa when she is feeling low. "When I hit my low points in life I go the the graveyard," she says. "people are afraid of the graveyard. I love the graveyard." The transgender teen recently graduated from Jefferson High School. She is  enrolled in summer classes at Santa Fe College in Gainesville studying international business. She plans to transfer to the University of Florida, attend law school and become a civil rights lawyer. (JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times)
  5. Few new details in state investigation of Tarpon Springs officer-involved shooting of Nick Provenza

    Public Safety

    TARPON SPRINGS — An investigative report, released this week by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, into the officer-involved shooting that killed 25-year-old Nick Provenza included largely the same narrative prosecutors released this month that ruled the shooting a "justifiable homicide."

    Stopping while riding by on his bike Michael Prater, 15, hangs his head after looking at the memorial at Safford and Tarpon avenues for Nick Provenza, a 25-year-old who was shot and killed there during a car show Saturday by a Tarpon Springs police officer. Investigators said Provenza pulled a knife on the cop who shot him. Friends find it hard to believe a man they described as a peaceful vegan and musician would be capable of such an act. Prater didn't know the victim but was at the car show.